The Roundtable: 'Concrete Consequences Must Be Set'
MR. HORNBECK: A central premise of the national standards and assessments movement is that consequences both for students and schools should be attached to the achievement or non-achievement of the outcomes. But high-stakes consequences should not be applied until all students are guaranteed an opportunity to learn.
GOVERNOR ROMER: I'm reluctant to get into strict accountability until we get a better way to measure, and until we get a better definition of what it is we want somebody to accomplish.
We haven't defined clearly enough what it is that we're after or how to measure accomplishment to punish or reward performance very strictly.
If we demand too strict accountability at this point, people are going to teach to the test, to respond to the rewards and punishments. That would stifle the kind of experimentation and innovation that needs to occur.
We need to figure out how to make the transition from where we are to where we want to be without lessening the motivation for all the in-service and pre-service training that has to occur.
MR. HORNBECK: That's the reason we ought to be about the business of identifying the standards and the new assessment practices.
But for the sake of discussion, let's assume for a moment that we have those. Then what would go into an accountability system? Or, on the other hand, what do you do about accountability in the meantime while you're developing new standards and assessments?
GOVERNOR ROMER: In Colorado, I would like to have us all be born again in terms of our interest in standards. I would like us to begin to understand what they are. I would like us to work with other states to develop some testing methods and a resource barrel of tasks that we can share.
I would like us to have a great professional-development program for teachers and to involve all of the teachers in helping us deal with the assessments.
And I would like the state to provide the funds to encourage and nurture these things.
The English Inspectorate has been mentioned. I would like to have such an inspectorate that would go around to schools and say: "Hey, we are not going to measure students; we don't know enough yet to do that. But we are going to make judgments about your effort.''
And maybe we suspend the accreditation process as we know it for five years, so we can free up money and people to do this. And have at least a continual dialogue with schools in which we make judgments about inputs and outcomes as they are occurring.
Simultaneously, I would set in motion a process to develop statewide testing. It may take three years or longer, but we make sure that testing is aligned with the goals we want to accomplish.
Clearly, there is a transition period. To require rigid, strict accountability based on present tests would defeat the motivation of the system to change.
MR. MILLS: That sounds good to me. People involved in the New Standards Project and the Vermont portfolio effort are not trying to beat the test. What they are trying to do is think through each of the standards and what would constitute a really engaging task for student assessment.
They are arguing with one another about instructional practices that work. If we suddenly pull down the curtain and say, "O.K., now this is on the test,'' the game would change very rapidly. The innovation would stop.
GOVERNOR ROMER: I want to know how schools are performing. I am skeptical about the present method of assessments, but I will use them until I have something better. They have validity, but they have limits.
MS. GRAHAM: But you are going to use the old assessments until you get your new set. And that's the crux of the policy dilemma we are in right now. Most of us don't like the old assessments. But we think there has to be some measure, and we can't decide whether we should use those old, inferior, inadequate assessments for real accountability, or whether to continue to treat them as we always have, as if they had no consequence.
MR. PETERKIN: I remember a school board meeting where my teachers gave me and the board the number of days we spent testing. Not minutes, not hours, but the number of days that we spent using tests that the board and I didn't like to use. And the state was giving us some more.
There is a growing frustration among teachers who are being asked to deal with more content while this proliferation of tests is taking more time away from instruction.
Nothing that anybody has said so far makes me believe that kids aren't going to be caught at the 4th, 8th, and 11th grades, sitting in a classroom, taking and retaking some test, whether we are talking about the new standards or the old standards.
MR. HORNBECK: There is no reason in the world why we can't abandon nationally normed standardized tests right now--except political reasons and parents who resist.
MS. FUHRMAN: This need not be an either/or. There are a number of states that have sort of second-generation standardized tests. There are a variety of ways to go about it.
MS. HAYCOCK: Once there is agreement on content standards at the state level, and assessment mechanisms are developed, there ought to be substantial, concrete consequences, both rewards and sanctions for schools and the professionals within them.
MR. SEXTON: I favor real consequences, too. The obvious problem is that some schools don't need those consequences and others do. In the ideal world, we would identify those schools that need consequences, and we would have a different set of expectations and requirements for them.
The thing that now concerns me as those consequences are closer to reality in Kentucky is that the teachers were hit by the negative side. On top of fatigue and stress, there's fear. And I am truly and genuinely surprised at the misunderstanding of the whole concept of sanctions, and the fear that is out there. I just didn't realize where teachers' heads are, especially elementary teachers.
We have no consequences for children in Kentucky at this point. I don't see how we can go along without having incentives and consequences, at least for high school students, as a way of encouraging older kids to want to do better in school. This society doesn't provide those incentives now.
The incentives and consequences don't have to be driven so much by testing. I look first at the community consequences: job incentives, for example. How can you get employers to make high school important? How do you get parents to make it important?
MR. HORNBECK: The only serious disagreement over national standards and assessments is over two issues. One, whether there should be high stakes for teachers and administrators; and two, whether there should be high stakes for kids.
And the main concern about kids is not whether there should be high stakes, but what conditions need to be in place before the high stakes are applied.
GOVERNOR ROMER: You mean delivery standards?
MR. HORNBECK: Yes. At the federal level, for example, the House won't let a bill go through without addressing delivery standards. And I think the advocacy community, joined by some other people, will say you just simply cannot deny kids promotion, graduation, jobs, and college without some mechanism that first levels the playing field for them.
GOVERNOR ROMER: It's the chicken-and-the-egg situation. You say we can't attach high stakes until all kids have the "opportunity to learn.'' In my state, an awful lot of districts are not going to be moved to provide that opportunity to learn until they see the challenge of what it is kids need to know and be able to do. It is a circular thing.
What bothers me about the House's position is that it will require micromanagement on what delivery standards are. They didn't understand the interactions between content standards, assessment methods, and teaching methods.
We ought not cede to the House of Representatives the right to dictate educational policy in America. If we cannot come to terms with that, we ought to say, "Bye-bye, we'll go do it another way.''
MS. FUHRMAN: We make a mistake when we think about delivery
standards as a federal issue, because, whatever the House of
Representatives does, the states are going to have to face the
opportunity-to-learn questions. Isn't guaranteeing equal opportunity
what states and the federal government have always been about? Or
should have always been about?
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This is a very complicated issue. It encompasses a broad range of policy, financing, teacher certification, as well as a set of resource standards.
It's an issue the states are going to have to face, whatever happens in Congress.
MR. PETERKIN: I really don't think we are that far apart on this whole issue of incentives and rewards. Governor Romer framed the issue as a chicken-or-egg situation. Well, for once, I would like to see the egg come before the chicken.
I would like to see the onus placed on adults long before it's placed on children. When people tell me that we have to continue to codify our children and to fail some of them while we try to fix this flawed system, I am going to fight it.
If you tell me, however, that adults are going to work to build capacity, are going to be involved in reaching conclusions--not just discussion for discussion's sake--and that institutions are, therefore, going to be powerful enough to move the lives of children in concert with the community, then I'm all for it. I'm all for rewarding them until the cows come home.
But if kids continue to fail, and the institution isn't doing anything about it, then I want that institution to pay the price long, long before their kids pay yet another price.
MR. HORNBECK: There is no disagreement that every child deserves an opportunity to learn. The issue is whether there should be a direct connection between the use of standards and assessments--either developed with federal money or implying federal imprimatur--and the denying of graduation, promotion, jobs, or college based on those tests.
I believe that there needs to be that linkage. I can't bring myself to the point of saying we can use that test to deny college or a job by official state action, even though we haven't provided the kids an opportunity to learn.
But that connection will require us to fashion a set of features that would be standard in that area--what have been called delivery standards. Most of the time when people talk about that, they begin to talk about narrowly drawn, prescriptive kinds of things.
I heard somebody yesterday say: "What do you want? Do you want to specify the number of globes in the geography classroom?'' Some people have even talked about teacher-student ratios as one standard.
I'm talking about much broader standards; for example, whether we ought to deny a kid graduation if his teachers are unable to pass the exam that the kid is expected to pass in order to graduate.
This is a very fundamental question about the values of this country and the federal role. It is going to be a matter of heated debate in the months ahead.
GOVERNOR ROMER: Let me start from where the real world is. I'm embarrassed to use my airplane example, but here goes: You ought not be allowed to fly a plane unless you know how to fly the plane.
Therefore, when I run a flight school, are you saying that the Federal Aviation Administration shouldn't let me have a standard with consequences, which is a flight test, unless I can also prove that everybody had an opportunity to learn down here?
MR. HORNBECK: No. I'm saying that the person we put in the classroom has to know how to fly, or the person ought not to be flying, and we ought not to be sending kids up in an airplane with people who are going to kill them. That's the issue.
GOVERNOR ROMER: Let me go at it again, David. When we went to Congress with S 2 last year, we said this nation needs to adopt content standards for what a youngster ought to know and be able to do. Second, we need to find a way to measure how well they do it, because that's the way the real world is.
Therefore, we ask your assistance to put this panel in place, where it will just give a Good Housekeeping seal of approval. We also ask your assistance to get the Department of Education to start developing some research on proper assessments.
The House said, "No, not fair. You shouldn't ask students to meet high standards unless you can insure that they have the opportunity to learn.''
I agree that good public policy says you've got to do them both simultaneously. But the Congress wants to prove you've got the opportunity to learn before we apply the standard.
Now, let me go back to my airplane analogy. We live in the real world, and people fly those airplanes. We are going to have more people flying every day. And we have got to continue to have a gate through which we don't let people go. The world really works that way.
Whether you apply for a job or apply for college, there is a gate, and they are going to have criteria for that gate no matter what we do with law. That's the real world.
In education, we're trying to prepare people for those gates of employment and professional certification. We ought to create learning atmospheres, experiences where all youngsters have an opportunity to hit those gates. That's for sure. That's a commitment I'm willing to make.
And I'm willing to sit with an "opportunity-to-learn commission'' and say these are general descriptors as to what schools in America ought to include in order to make sure kids have the opportunity to learn. But I want to stop right there. I don't want to then say that, if you don't comply with those prescriptors, you don't get federal funds.
MR. HORNBECK: Now, just so I understand, let's say you've got most of the teachers in a state unable to pass the exam, just to use an example, that the kids in the state are expected to pass. Yet, you think the real world, as you describe it, should deny those kids the chance to pass through the gate?
GOVERNOR ROMER: No, no, I don't buy that. I'm not into exams with high stakes. I'm willing to bring a youngster through this K-12 system and give him any kind of a damn thing you want to give him. Say, "Thank you, glad you were here.'' That's O.K. by me--almost--as long as what happens within that system internally was really aimed at making him educated. I think we can do a lot better than "thank you, glad you're here.''
But once they leave the K-12 system, they're going to get a job, fly an airplane, go to college, or whatever, and those are real gates. So we want to give that youngster guidelines as he goes through that K-12 experience that assure him he's going to be qualified to get through the next gate.
And the most honest thing you can tell a senior in high school is whether you have given him what he's going to need to live his life. That is what he wanted to come to school for. Now, if you lie to him, you've done the worst thing in the world.
If I go to the hospital for a CAT scan, don't lie to me about what it says. We should give the student an honest CAT scan in his educational achievement.
Measurement has meaning. What I'm worried about is when we get to the prescriptive nature of standards that relate to opportunity to learn, we really have got to be careful. It's helpful to say to people this is what a good school looks like, and this is what good teaching looks like.
We give schools examples of what we think are good practices, then they go do their own thing. I don't want a federal law that says you do it the way we prescribe it or else, bang, you don't get the money.
MR. HORNBECK: I would, in fact, be prepared to say that if you don't succeed, then we will examine whether you meet some very parsimonious, stripped-down delivery standards. In fact, there are only three or four things that I would put on the list of opportunity-to-learn standards.
And I won't even prevent you from giving the exam, any of that kind of stuff, but you can't, by way of state action, deny ...
GOVERNOR ROMER: If you don't produce the result over a period of time that we think you ought to produce, we're going to come in and ask you ...
MR. HORNBECK: We're going to ask you if you're helping kids.
GOVERNOR ROMER: And you're going to take your charter away or your money away.
MR. HORNBECK: If it's used for high-stakes purposes, yes.
MR. CROSS: What's the incentive, then, David, for the system to do all that it needs to do to teach the kids, if they can continue to not have high-stakes requirements or high-stakes consequences?
MR. HORNBECK: I think the incentive to the system is to be one of the early states that can demonstrate clearly that they're producing a quality workplace. You get economic development; that's the reason we're in this business anyhow.
MR. CROSS: But as Rick has pointed out, they're out there now. I would turn it around and say that, until you have high stakes, you're not going to motivate the community to take it seriously.
MR. HORNBECK: Well, that is clearly a difference of opinion.
MR. MILLS: Should the accountability in the system be at the very, very top, or should there also be accountability at the bottom? In the business world, the accountability is right there at the cash register, and it is the customer who demands performance. We're envisioning a model here where it's way way way up someplace at the S.E.C. [Securities and Exchange Commission] level.
And I don't think that is where the levers for change ought to exist. I'm not starting to make an argument for choice, I'm just saying that the performance, the enforcement of the quality in this educational system, has to be much closer to where kids are and parents are.
EW: If enforcement of quality is where the kids and parents are, how do you deal with schools in East St. Louis, the schools Jonathan Kozol wrote about in Savage Inequalities? Who is going to take the steps necessary to change that situation? And how would they do it if there were opportunity-to-learn standards and sanctions for failing to meet them? Imagine the changes that would be required to provide an opportunity to learn in some of the dreadful schools described in Kozol's book.
MR. MILLS: We need to look at it at both ends. I think Kozol's argument is telling--maybe for a state to play in the game there Continued on Page XX
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have to be a few basic gauges. Not a detailed micromanaged plan, but a band of equity.
MR. HORNBECK: I would insist on a standard that assured that teachers have the capacity to teach what we expect kids to learn. I think it's insane to think that we ought to hold a kid responsible for knowing algebra or flying an airplane if we don't have teachers who know how to do that. And in Kentucky right now, 75 percent of the teachers would have a very difficult time with the examination.
MR. MILLS: Seventy-five percent?
MR. HORNBECK: That is what has come back in reaching the top standard.
MS. GRAHAM: That raises certain questions about whether the kids can reach that standard.
MR. HORNBECK: That's exactly my point.
The second opportunity-to-learn standard that I would have is to have an inspectorate of very highly professionally trained people who, on a sample basis, would go to a state that was seeking this federal imprimatur and examine the portfolio of curriculum, technology, and instructional activities that the school and the school district thought was the array of arrows in the quiver that was responsive to the standards.
And everybody doesn't have to do the same thing. There could be lots of different ones. Somebody might think that their kids need to go to a downtown library, and others might think the library has got to be in the school; some might use computers to access a variety of data bases.
The third standard would be a system of professional development that was reasonably calculated to maintain teacher competence vis-Áa-vis the content standards for students. It always comes back to the student standards.
And the fourth would be some form of system of consequences, and by that I mean both positive and negative, that are connected to the performance system.
Those would be the four things that would be the delivery standards for the system. If those four things were in place, I think you could reasonably say that you had provided an opportunity to learn.
And if you don't have teachers that know it, and you don't even have a science lab, for goodness' sake, or any evidence that there's any way to do that, and you don't have any system of professional development that any professional would think related to the standards, then you ought not to be able to deny kids stuff in the process.
GOVERNOR ROMER: I could probably buy your four standards. But in my gut, I'm worried that it wouldn't be limited to four once people start making lists.
When you start describing the delivery standards that Congress is going to police, you lose me. And that's what I sensed was happening the last time in Congress.
I believe Congress will probably create a "commission on learning.'' That is a healthy thing for two reasons. One, it helps Congress know somebody's going to pay attention to this, and it gets them out of the role of micromanaging. Second, they really can do some good work, like begin to describe what a good school looks like in its various forms and what good teaching is. They can't be prescriptive; it needs to be done with enough breadth and pluralism that we can invent some variations that fit in.
Maybe we could begin to get together on this issue of opportunity to
Vol. 12, Issue 30